Editorial: MSMS COVID-19 adjustments the right call, could’ve come sooner


Carter Moore

Over the course of a month, administration updated its reopening plan based on the latest COVID-19 information.

Editorial Staff

The Vision is edited and produced by students attending the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science. The views expressed are solely those of the student editorial staff and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of MSMS or its administrators, faculty, newspaper adviser or other staff. 

During COVID summer, many MSMS students lived email to email, waiting to find out what school would look like this year. Every time an email from Executive Director Dr. McConnell arrived, most students, although upset about how different the school year would look, appreciated the amount of caution MSMS was taking. The administration repeatedly changed plans based on new information, but from the very beginning, they, and everyone else knew the virus was getting worse and not slowing down. Administrators should have been more receptive to this inevitability and made the switch to virtual sooner; however, they did regularly update their plan based on new data and ultimately made the best decision for students and faculty. 

Keeping the dorms at half-capacity, requiring the use of masks and social distancing, and limiting the use of common areas in the case of a return to campus is an excellent approach to handling the array of challenges posed by COVID-19. With Mississippi gaining a huge influx of cases, the administration made the right decision by taking the utmost precautions and ensuring students and staff are put at a reduced risk of contracting COVID-19. 

Still, this decision could’ve and should’ve been made sooner. The outcome of the rising cases was always going to be the same, so earlier action was needed to prevent seniors being without items left and school as well as allowing teachers adequate time to prepare.

For instance, on June 26, Mississippi had just set a single day state record for the number of new cases reported in a day: 1,646. The average number of daily cases of the last seven reporting days (LWA-Last Week Average) before the email was 639. It was clear that COVID-19 in Miss. was already pretty bad. The second update came on July 10. The LWA for that week was 813, up from 639 at the time of the last email. COVID-19 was not obviously not about to go away. 

On July 22, barely a week from orientation, students received a school calendar and the announcement of a virtual-only school option. That week, the LWA was 1,140. The number of positive cases, suspected cases, patients in ICU and patients on ventilators combined (TVN- Total Value Number) was 1,640. Since MSMS made this option available, it shows that they were monitoring the situation and ensuring the safety of faculty and students. However, given the rapid increase of COVID-19, this option should have been offered sooner.  

In an interview with the Vision, McConnell said, “It’s always safety first. Secondly, to try to maintain as normal of an environment as possible.”

Finally, on Aug. 5, Dr. McConnell informed the MSMS community that the first nine weeks were to be completely virtual. This last update came the day after Tate Reeves’s press conference and recommendation to postpone the start of school in certain school districts. 

However, McConnell expressed that the press conference was not the deciding factor. 

“Everyone felt it was too risky to have students move in,” McConnell said. “The press conference with Governor Reeves simply confirmed our decision to begin the year virtually for all students. The same decision would likely have been made outside of the Governor’s press conference.”

It’s obvious, then, there was no reason to wait for the governor’s suggestion to take action. Because of this late decision, many students had already moved items into campus under the assumption they would be returning after four weeks. Additionally, many teachers had to completely change their lessons and syllabi less than a week before school started.

Miss. has been handling the pandemic and faring worse than most states, and while other schools faced potential federal budget cuts, MSMS was already exempt. They should have noted the trends sooner and given faculty and students time to take adequate preparation for another fully virtual quarter and prevented so much less minute scrambling. 

The week of the final update, the LWA was 1,128, and the TVA was 1,714. If that was enough to cancel the first nine weeks of in-person schooling, why wasn’t an LWA of 1,380 and a TVA of 1,641 the week before enough to do the same? It never seemed truly possible that a return to campus was in the cards. This fact is really the only deficiency in the administration’s overall handling of the situation. 

There is much sympathy for the difficulty of the administration’s position and how they cannot truly make a “right” or “perfect” decision. However, students and teachers will feel the direct impact of almost every decision made. There was no question in the quality of the administration’s hand. So why keep raising the bet and using the impacts on students’ and teachers’ lives as currency? The plan is perfect, but with such a bad hand, the school should’ve folded much earlier than August 5. Overall, MSMS did the right thing, just not soon enough.